I first met Frances Frost at the Spring Book Festival last year where the cover for her book Life in Spades stuck out, as I’m a player of the popular card game. I spotted the novel from across the Prince George’s Sports & Learning Complex and wandered over to learn more about the book and the attractive beauty standing behind it. As she explained what the book was about, Frances had a calm spirit to her and I knew she was something special. A year later, I caught up with her, as we shared brunch together at Busboys & Poets, and her story continues to amazes me.
Frances is a biracial mother of four, a wife, an animal owner, and a strong advocate for education, parental engagement, and literacy.
Your debut novel, Life in Spades, was released in 2013. What inspired you to write a book?
I’ve always wanted to write and with Life in Spades I made the decision—just do it. I wanted to be a writer, so instead of saying that, I buckled down and just did it. I read a lot; I have been in a book club forever and they laugh at me because I tell them all the time that I want to write about happy black people. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a story about slavery, or a book like The Help now and then, but I also want to read a happy story about friends who empower and strengthen each other. And as Maya Angelou said, “If you want to read it, write it.” So, I wrote a book about characters I feel black women could identify with; characters having a great time, enjoying one another, fun times at the beach, and positivity.
In 1991, you were homecoming queen at the University of Delaware, where you graduated with a degree in finance, where you always knew you wanted to be a writer. What made you study finance instead of creative writing or journalism?
It goes back to me being an advocate of reading diverse work in high school. I always wanted to be a writer, but being in high school, I wasn’t sure that was something you could be, being a black writer. Finance seemed like a respectable career.
At the University of Delaware, I discovered they had black literature courses, maybe five of them at the time, not many, not enough to qualify as a minor, and they were all taught by the same professor. I took each one of them though. This boosted my confidence level that you could be a writer, a black writer. This is why now more than ever it is important to expose our children to diverse books and the many different careers you can have. There are many little girls out there who can be a writer, too.
You created a 50,000-word novel for the National Novel Writing Month contest back in 2010. How were you able to handle this challenge?
There is a strong level of discipline required. The challenge was around November, which is already a crazy and hectic month, Christmas shopping if you’re organized, preparing for Thanksgiving. I set a benchmark for myself that I would hit, 1,600 words a day or so many pages a day I would try to accomplish, and if I didn’t the next day’s goal doubled. Once I finished I was a little over 50,000 words, but at that point you have over a hundred pages. At the time this wasn’t Life in Spades, it was just a foundation novel I had written, so I had to make a decision concerning Well, you’ve written all of this, what do you do with it?
So, I decided to edit it and see what came of it, and Life in Spades was birthed. I used the same method for my second novel. When you set yourself on a thirty-day goal there is no time to not like it. You just write, write, and write to get all your ideas on paper. At the end of the thirty days you can go back and say I like this, I don’t like that but at least you have the foundation and the momentum started.
Do you apply any of those writing techniques to your current writing?
I do. I think to get it done I have found that it is easier to get there by just writing for a set deadline. Don’t edit and edit or write it over from scratch instead of editing. Write straight through, then edit at the end and then start all over again if you need to. If you stop and go throughout the process you will never finish.
In your second novel, Mourning Calm, you travel back to South Korea to explore family relationships, cultures, and secrets. Is this loosely based on your own experiences?
A little bit. I am a biracial Korean and there were always stories my mom told me and I read about biracial friends and the challenges of being biracial. I was somewhere one day and I saw this girl who looked like me, and you know how people always say oh I know someone who looks like you, people always say that but it’s not true. However, this girl looked like a prettier version of me. While creating Mourning Calm I thought what if someone out there was someone like me or my sister?
You self-published both your novels; what challenges do you face wearing both hats?
Being a publisher takes a different set of skills from being a writer. I am fine with the business aspect; having been a finance major helps me with the business operations side. The biggest challenge, depending on the person, is having knowledge of the book industry and having the connections concerning where you need to be and what you should be doing. Me personally, I enjoyed the self-publishing process, because I was able to have creative control over seeing this book come to fruition from start to finish. I was able to pick my own title, the book cover, and I’m not a creative person so this was a fun out-of-the-box activity for me.
However, again, you really have to be business savvy to handle the publishing side, because it is just that—a business!
What advice can you give someone who is both an independent author and publisher?
I would say to realize that you are running a business and you will have to spend money on things you are not good at. For example, I am a writer, not a cover designer, so I paid for a designer. This is a business, your business, so treat it as such. Invest the money to pay professionals for the work you don’t know how to do. For me, I pay for an editor, designer, and eventually I want to hire a marketing person or team, but turtle pace wins the race. You don’t have to pay for everything overnight, but know what you need when you need it.
Also, make sure to follow the legal requirements to run a business in your state.
Blogging and self-publishing have become a popular trend over the last decade. Do you find there is a lot of competition within the indie author industry?
Yes, I think there are a lot of people getting out there doing the self-publishing thing, which brings competition, but I feel it is a good thing, especially for minority writers who may not get picked up by a large publisher. You already have to be known and have a large, strong fan base to get picked up by major publishers, unless of course yours is a Fifty Shades of Grey needle in the haystack waiting to be found.
This is a great industry in which there are more diverse books to immerse yourself in, more stories to be told; publishers no longer have control over what they think we want to read. Now we can write what we want to read. No more gatekeepers. Now it does take a level of confidence to write a book and put it out there. And because there are so many people launching new books daily, it’s harder to stand out and be noticed. We’ve lost count in terms of how many self-published books are released each day, the same with blogs.
To my fellow authors, don’t think you will launch and sell a million copies. You have to set realistic goals. I once read that if you sell one hundred books you are successful in indie publishing. Food for thought.
How do you use social media to your advantage?
On my website, I also have a blog that I don’t post a whole lot to. However, I do use Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest to share information about my books and events. I love to share information that I feel my readers would enjoy. I enjoy when there is a dialogue and engagement between myself and other readers. If I share a book that I like and they do too we have a virtual bond, a connection with someone that before social media you would have no way to connect with.
I like using Pinterest because it visually brings my characters and settings to life. For example, in Life in Spades, I had a visual board for each character’s personality and style. I even had a cupcake inspiration board. I did the same with Mourning Calm; one of the characters wore a grand dress in the book and I had a board of grand dresses. It’s a great tool for getting visual inspiration and letting readers be able to see what you visualize and are writing about.
You were born in South Korea, lived in seven U.S. states, and are now a resident of Silver Spring, MD. Do you think living in the DMV has its advantages for being a writer?
There are definitely several opportunities here. I haven’t even taken advantage of all of them. There are so many like-minded people just like us here. I’m currently in a group of black women writers and I don’t know if I would find that someplace else; a group of novelists, professors, researchers who write in all types of genres. The DMV area gives you a unique blend of professionals and it’s a great place to be inspired. Being close to a big city gives you opportunities and the chance to meet great people.
What are some “must dos” for being a writer and “must attend” events?
Take a writing class if you don’t have an MFA in writing. Even as a reader and writer, there is just a different dynamic to understanding how to write a story and the perfect dialogue. I’m still evolving in that way. Taking a class will help you hone your skills and you can never learn enough when you want to write.
Join a writing group, where you can receive feedback and critique others’ work. I’ve been in the same safe place since before my first novel. I don’t let anyone else read my work before it’s published—not my husband, family, or friends. You either get overly supportive friends who say oh this is really good and they won’t tell you the truth because you’re family, or the friends who will say this is good but you should do this. Have a support system that has experience with writing and has the same goals as you. A writing group is a safe place to share, critique, and grow together. Writing is a lonely career; it is nice to have people to bounce ideas off of who share your creative interests.
Aside from being an author you run a blog called JustPiddlin’. What do you blog about?
Mainly my personal interests of food, cooking and eating; travel, mostly with family; books that I’m reading; motherhood challenges, the joys and frustrations of motherhood.
As a mother of four, a wife, mom to a rescue pup, when do you find time to write and how do you balance all these aspects of your life?
My kids are older now, so I can write when they are in school. Although, and it depends what is going on with my schedule, but I often write at night after the domestic settles, which is my favorite time to write. Just like in college, I would stay up at night. At night, it seems like I have all the time in the world. I do sometimes get up early in the morning to write, but I have to be done by a certain time to get ready for the day. I usually carry a journal with me and write longhand while I’m out and inspiration comes, so I’m able to store that away until later.
The serious writing happens at night.
With two novels under your belt, a blog, a wonderful family, what’s next for you?
I started a fellowship around my passion, Literacy and Education. I have been involved in the PTA for years, working with schools and districts on getting families engaged in understanding the importance of raising literacy awareness in respect to minority children. Somewhere in between there will be my third novel.
Any events you would like to mention where people can find you at?
This fall I will be at the Asian Adoptee Conference for Mourning Calm, and I’m always available for book clubs and speaking engagements at conferences.
the VIRGO GIRL FIVE THINGS TO ASK
What would you tell your 21-year-old self?
Start following your passion early. Find a way to do and make it happen.
I start my day with . . .
If you could invite any woman to dinner, who would it be?
Best advice you have received?
Don’t loan money that you need back.
Life motto you live by?
No good deed goes unpunished.